When Bridget Jones’s Diary was released in 2001, it became a huge hit – primarily with women in their 20s or 30s, but also with a much wider audience. It’s fair to say that the author of the original novel, Helen Fielding, did conceive her book and characters with primarily a female audience in mind. Bridget Jones’s Diary is based on Pride and Prejudice, right down to the name Mark Fitzwilliam Darcy being used for one of the main love interests. The movie managed to achieve what few book to film adaptations can do; that is to say, it brought to life the literary characters on the big screen in such a way that few could really find anything to argue about.
Renée Zellweger crafted a perfect portrayal of Bridget, the middle-class English woman in her thirties who seems to be perpetually single and always on a diet. Though, as an American, her casting raised eyebrows initially, she earned strong reviews and even an Academy Award nomination for her role. Colin Firth agreed to accept the role of Mark Darcy after playing Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and Hugh Grant played Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s smooth, smarmy and incredibly charming boss. Bridget Jones also had a strong supporting cast, including Sally Phillips, Jim Broadbent, and Gemma Jones. Directed by Sharon Maguire, from a screenplay by Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis, Bridget Jones’s Diary was funny, sentimental, sweet, and yet also edgy. In short, it was the kind of ‘chick-flick’ that the target audience had been waiting for.
Bridget was flawed; she smoked, she drank, she was looking for love and trying to be thin, and yet at the same time she was strong, confident and, when cheated on by Daniel and hurt by Mark, she was not afraid to hold her head high and say that she didn’t want either of them. Of course, her heart has always belonged to Mark Darcy, though, and the film delivered its happy ending when the pair kissed in a snow covered London street.
A sequel was ordered, based on Fielding’s second novel, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason premiered in 2004, reuniting the original cast. As with a lot of sequels, The Edge of Reason did not live up to the standard of the first film. Despite being a commercial success, it was a critical disaster, and those who made the trip to the movie were generally disappointed with the film, too. While the first movie had presented a storyline and characters that many could relate to, The Edge of Reason became too silly, too outlandish in its plot, and too slapstick. Not many women in their mid-thirties can relate to being sent to Thailand for work and then being arrested for drug smuggling, whereas plenty could find much in common with Bridget in the first film – from her anxiety over her weight, to the depth of love she has for her friends. Sadly, the Bridget Jones franchise appeared to have ended on a rather lame note.
Except that now it’s back. More than ten years since her last outing on our screens, Bridget Jones is still perpetually single, still struggling to fit into her jeans, and still as in love with Mark Darcy as she has always been. She also happens to be pregnant. Bridget Jones’s Baby reunites Zellweger and Firth, as well as the supporting cast, but minus Grant, who disliked the original script so intensely that he exited the project. After Beeban Kidron directed Edge of Reason, Sharon Maguire returns to direct this third installment, with a screenplay from Fielding, Dan Mazer (Bruno, Borat), and Emma Thompson (who rewrote the script after Grant left the project). Thompson also joins the cast as Bridget’s obstetrician, along with Patrick Dempsey as Jack Qwant, Bridget’s one night stand and possible father of the aforementioned baby. Mark Darcy is the other possible option for father and, of course, the two suits become tied for Bridget’s affections. Let’s face it: it wouldn’t be Bridget Jones unless there was a love triangle.
News of a third Bridget Jones movie was met with skepticism and really, not much excitement. After the failure of the second film, and such a long absence, many felt as though there was no longer a place for Bridget Jones in our lives. The target audience of the first two films has moved on; many who were in their late twenties in 2001 are now maybe married with children, or settled into careers, with mortgages and other responsibilities – or all of the above. Could a third Bridget Jones film really work, when the impression we were left with after The Edge of Reason was that Bridget would never really manage to grow up?
The short answer is yes, it does work, and it works rather well. Okay, so Bridget still struggles with her weight, and she still spends her birthday in her pajamas, eating cake and drinking wine, but she has grown up, she has changed, and the nice thing about Bridget Jones’s Baby is, that although Bridget is slightly more subdued, and more focused on her career, she’s still the same lovable woman who never quite seems to get it right. Some of the humor is silly; some of the jokes are groan-worthy, and the ending of the film is entirely predictable, but overall it is massive amounts of fun and it also, somewhat surprisingly, recaptures what made us love the first movie. That is to say it taps into and presents a life that we can all identify with – especially women.
Make no mistake, this is a film very much targeted at women between 30 and 50; women who are having to make the choice between a career or children (and yes, it really is nigh impossible to have both while those children are still small). Women who stand by watching as one by one their friends get married and have kids, who are totally disbelieved if they say they don’t want all that, who are endlessly subjected to “just not met the right man yet?” responses when they say they’re single. This is a film made for those of us who maybe would like to have all of that, but who refuse to compromise ourselves, our career or our integrity to get it. For those of us who feel irrelevant in a fast moving workplace as newer, fresher, younger employees enter the fray, or for those of us who sit with our children at our feet and regard our single friends with envy, assuming their life is one big party. Most importantly, this film is for those of us who have not lost the spirit and zest for life that we had when we were 21. The light might be dimmed a little, but it’s still there, and Bridget Jones’s Baby reignites it.
The film raises some interesting questions; is 43 too old for first time motherhood? Is Bridget truly a disgrace for not knowing who the father of her baby is? Or is she a woman enjoying her life, taking control of her own body and showing strength and tenacity in her determination to raise the baby with or without its dad? Will any of us ever grow out of needing our parent’s approval? (The scenes with Bridget and her mum and dad are sweetly moving to watch.) It also brings some heartfelt moments between friends, though the supporting cast are woefully underused in this film.
Bridget Jones’s Baby made a bold choice to move away from the big location changes we had with the second film, and the attempt at a dramatic storyline, but it works. With most of the action centered on Jones’ London life, coupled with brief trips to her parent’s village, it allows us to focus on, and feel for, a storyline that stops just short of being too overly sentimental. Bridget Jones’s Baby is like comfort food for the soul; offering warmth and familiarity as well as a message to women out there that they are all united in their hopes, fears, triumphs and failures, whatever path their lives may take.
Bridget Jones’s Baby is in theaters now.